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Senate Republicans willing to return on final day of session as walkout continues

Oregon Senate Republicans on Tuesday declared they’re willing to return to the floor to pass bipartisan legislation and budget bills on June 25, the final day of the session.

Senators continued to participate in the GOP-led walkout on Tuesday, boycotting the floor session for the 15th day and preventing the Senate from reaching the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business. 

Dozens of bills hang in the balance as the walkout persists, jeopardizing not just future state budgets but efforts to build a veterans home in Roseburg, help homeless schoolchildren and make housing more available. In the latest effort to gain public support, Democrats sent out a release on Wednesday with a list of stalled education bills. They include proposals that would provide electronic notification to parents during emergencies, help students who face sexual harassment and put $140 million into literacy programs, one of Gov. Tina Kotek’s priorities.

Democratic lawmakers want the impasse to end before the last day of the session. Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, on Tuesday told reporters the absentee senators need to return to debate and vote on all the bills.

It’s unclear what would happen if Republicans and Democrats do not reach a deal to get the Senate back to work. Kotek was in the state Capitol on Monday, meeting separately with Republican and Democrat senators about the walkout and held more meetings on Tuesday with House Republican and Democratic representatives. 

“Everybody has a valid perspective, and my job is to figure out if there’s a pathway to resolve this,” Kotek told reporters on Tuesday. “And I’m not sure yet, but I’ll be thinking about it.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said Republicans were willing to return the final day of the session “to address the issues most important to Oregonians – homelessness, affordable housing, public safety, cost of living, job creation, and fully-funded education.” 

“We are not interested in facilitating an agenda that is unlawful, uncompromising and unconstitutional,” Knopp said in a statement. “This has not changed.”

Republicans object to a few bills they want killed. These include House Bill 2002, a bill expanding abortion rights and access to transgender health care, and House Bill 2005, which deals with firearms and raises the minimum age for most gun purchases from 18 to 21 years old and allows local agencies to ban firearms in government-owned property.

Knopp’s statement came out as Wagner was on the Senate floor.

“We’re here to do the people’s work,” Wagner told reporters afterwards. “All the bills should be considered. This is our democracy. People need to show up to the floor, and if they object to legislation, then come tell the voters, tell your citizens, tell your constituents. Really, the place to have that debate is on the floor.”

Wagner said Democrats have no interest in changing House bills 2002 or 2005.

Ten senators now have at least 10 unexcused absences, the threshold that makes them ineligible to serve another term of office under a constitutional amendment voters passed in 2022.

If the walkout continues to June 25 and the session ends, Kotek could call lawmakers back in a special session to pass a budget. The current budget ends June 30, but state agencies can continue operating without any disruptions through Sept. 15 because of a continuing resolution that keeps the current levels of funding in place if a budget isn’t set yet.

Senior reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report.